Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ringing in the New Year

January 1st, 2011

I decided that this year I was going to do something healthy to ring in the new year. Although I find hanging out in Sunriver with my friends and drinking to 2am as an extremely fun activity, I thought that might not be the best choice for "Body 2011" or my marathon hopes.

There's a 5K race that takes place at the stroke of midnight in downtown Portland and I thought I'd have a go at it. My trainer Aaron looked at my "Magic Mile" time from November and told me I could shoot for a sub 20 minute time. A 5K is about 3.1 miles so I was looking to run the race at a 6 min 27 sec per mile pace. He told me I this was technically faster than I was supposed to be able to run and I may crash and burn by the end, but go for it anyway. I liked this about him. I love taking on stupid challenges that I shouldn't be able to do (hence the night I ate 5 habanero poppers with habanero jelly at Salvador Molly's).

This was the first 5K I've ever run, so I really didn't know what to expect. Throw in the fact that it was taking place at midnight and I'm usually fast asleep by then and as it turns out it was about 27 degrees and we were in for an amazing experience!

I did a short warm up jog to the Max station by my house and got there just in time to wait 20 minutes. It was freakin' cold. I was in some running tights, shorts a jacket, hat and gloves, but for as cold as it was I might as well have been in a tank top and some boxers (although that probably would have been quite a shock to the two young ladies at the stop on their way to the club). I couldn't take the cold anymore so I started running on one of the side streets near the max stop. I'd jog down the block, walk a little bit, jog back to the stop and check for the train, walk a little bit, on and on. I wondered what any party-goers would think if they happened to look at there window and saw a man in black tights running back and forth like a frozen hamster.

The train finally came and joined a few other racers on the there as well as many others enjoying some new year festivities of a different sort. You can tell a racer by the paper number we all have pinned to our chests or shorts. When I was leaving the house I was debating about whether or not to wear the number on the way downtown. Is it more ridiculous to wear your number in a non-race environment or to be on public transportation in your 5K gear, but with no evidence that you're actually going to run anywhere? "Oh hey're going to the bar eh? Me? I'm just enjoying the 20 degree weather by riding the Yellow Line back and forth in highly reflective spandex." I settled on carrying my racing number in my hand in a fashion made it easily visible to anyone who wondered why I was dressed like an idiot.

When I got downtown I realized coming down to the race by myself without any extra clothing was a mistake. It was about 40 minutes until the race started, the pre-race party was outside, and I was FREEZING! There were about 5 of those propane heat lamps that were surrounded entirely by other racers (that all seemed to be wearing Oregon Duck gear...Gross). I was left to walk around in circles in an attempt to stay slightly warm.

I wasn't quite ready to start my official warm-up, but I really had no choice because I certainly wasn't going to hang out there getting colder by the second. My plan was to do the same routine I do for my "Magic Mile" workout. That's 3 minutes of jog-walk-jog-walk, followed by 800 meters of jogging, then some gliding sprints, then another 400 meters of jogging. Since we were in the middle of downtown Portland on one of the busiest party nights of the year though I basically jogged up and down the block for about half an hour praying to feel my fingers and toes again.

People started heading towards the starting line at about 10 minutes to midnight. The start/finish line was set up in in a narrow fenced in corridor just West of Front Street. It felt an awful lot like being in a cattle shoot, but the body heat generated by this setup was perfect for not dying, so I appreciated it quite a bit. This particular race isn't known for its competitiveness, so folks in costumes were lined up next to 80-year-olds, who were in turn lined up with guys that looked like Olympic 5000 meter hopefuls. This made it difficult for me to figure out who I should follow to try to hit my 20 minute race goal. In the end I hung out next to a couple running the race together and a girl dressed like a cow.

We counted down the last 10 seconds to midnight, gave a big congregational whoop and we were off to the race(s). The race consisted of one out-and-back on Front Street starting on Salmon Ave, heading North past the Broadway Bridge and turning around and coming back. After rounding the corner I tried to find my pace. I'd never run this short of a race before and this whole trying to run "fast" thing is very new to me, so I'm not sure exactly what 6:27 feels like yet. I knew the marker at mile 1 would be the first time I'd really get to check my pacing so I just did my best to pass more people than were passing me. I still couldn't feel my fingers or toes.

Mile 1 came and I was at 7 minutes. That was no good. That left me 13 minutes to get the next 2.1 miles. That's 6 min 11 second mile pace - I vaguely remember running that fast when I was 20 and pretty much not since then. I picked up my feet and tried to do as much as possible by the mile 2 marker. I still couldn't feel my fingers or toes.

Thanks to the non-competitive nature of this race, after the first mile and a half, I was pretty much done having people pass me. This was an unfamiliar experience. If you look at the finish line photo from my first marathon, you see me stumble across the line and right along side me is a 60 year old woman and she looks to be in much better shape than I was at that instance. I decided to focus on a couple running in front of me about 100 meters that looked pretty fit and use them as my pacers. Seemed reasonable that they could be shooting for a 20 minute race.

At mile 2 I was at 13 and-a-half minutes. That means I'd picked up the pace a bit and was at my target of right around 6 and-a-half minute miles, but I knew I surely wasn't going to run the next 1.1 miles by 20 minutes, but I was going back to passing people and see where that left me. I could feel my toes now and I wished I couldn't feel my fingers. They were throbbing so badly as they thawed out.

I was pushing as hard as I could focusing on passing as many people as possible before I hit the finish line. I made the corner on Salmon and saw the clock at 20 minutes 40 seconds. I hadn't started at the beginning of the pack, so I knew my time was a little lower than that. I clicked my watch as I crossed the line and it read 20 minutes 38 seconds. My new 5K standard.

I looked over at where the post race party was and thought about getting a beer, but it was still 20-some degrees out and I had to catch the train home so I just kept moving to the Max station. People were very curious about what kind of race would be going on in the middle of the night on New Years so I filled them in with a few details. I think some folks were a little envious of what we had decided to do that night. I know most people that were out on the town that night felt better at 11:45pm than I did, and it may have been a wash at 12:20am, but at 8am New Years morning, I guarantee I came out on top this year.

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